Greenlane's Costley Wards are neglected social history

Caring for a ballooning population of elderly New Zealanders is one of this country’s biggest challenges and focuses largely on Auckland. This is not a new problem.

As colonial settlers aged and ailed without family support, Auckland struggled to cope with more numbers than any other place in the country. The city was called upon to house them in a late nineteenth century era that saw hospital laws changing and a ground-breaking shift from charitable to welfare-fed institutions.

So why then has an elegant heritage building that frames all of the above history stood forgotten and derelict for over ten years? New Zealand’s first aged care home features a portico with Corinthian columns, ornate plaster work and balustrades over two stories of rich red brick. But the 120 year old hospital building needs love and attention, something that more than one of Greenlane Hospital’s buildings of national significance are sorely missing.  costley wards over main door brighter version

If you saunter across the hospital carpark on Green Lane West and press your face up against the glass of what was once the Costley Home for the Aged Poor (now unpoetically named Building 6), the windows reveal rotting carpet peppered with plaster, rows of old metal filing cabinets crammed into empty side-rooms and toilet bowls sat atop benches. Through open doorways, the iron bars of adult size cots and metal beds are strewn over the once busy Florence Nightingale style dormitories.

From a distance, motorists will only notice a proud Victorian haze of red brick slightly crumbling against the elements – it’s only close up the true extent of neglect is obvious.

A few steps away stands a slightly younger Building 5. Erected just a few years after the Costley Home’s 1899 creation, The Infirmary Ward is a Queen Anne revival style pavilion built to cope with overcrowding and separate the infirm and incurable from the then general masses of ‘mad, bad and sad.’

adjacent to Costley white and green (3)

At the time – according to the wealth of Heritage New Zealand information – you might have seen famous local artist and ‘inmate’ Louis Steele wandering through the building, a man who in the autumn of his life was clearly no longer collaborating with Goldie to produce some of New Zealand’s finest colonial works. Also resident was the aristocratic Sir Charles Burdett. The military captain’s name was first splashed across the papers when he spent two weeks in Mount Eden prison for stealing roses from Albert Park. Fellow inmates also included remnant soldiers of ‘Royal Bengal Tigers’ fame.

Though protected by heritage status on Heritage and Council books, in real terms, these iconic pieces of social and pyschological history are now barely protected from the rain.

Owners Auckland District Health Board pay a small waterproofing sum, but one that ADHB can’t quite seem to put their finger on. If naming a maintenance figure is too hard, imagine the horror associated with accounting for a renovation.

window and old pipes looking up enhanced

Stuff.co.nz championed the Costley cause in 2008 when only 4 years of neglect had passed and the Infirmary was due to be knocked down. Heritage campaigners stepped in and Heritage New Zealand slapped a Grade I listing on Buildings 5 and 6 with another operational part of the hospital. Auckland University of Technology said they wanted the project for health training but even $30 million wouldn’t cover the renovation bill so they backed out.

Since then ADHB say they’ve had no solid enquiries about taking the building over, meanwhile the Costley and Infirmary buildings are being re-evaluated as part of the Council’s Unitary Plan discussion.

Robin Byron, Heritage New Zealand’s Heritage Adviser Architecture, explains how the buildings can still be technically protected throughout this process.

“When we list a building we are recognising the heritage values associated with the building. But our listing is not intrinsically a protection mechanism. It is through the Resource Management Act and its Council listing that it is protected.”

However with each wet month that passes, the buildings will cost more to repair. Robyn would be delighted to see the Costley building restored and functional but she says the very reasons the buildings are so precious are also the reasons new ownership proves problematic.

“It’s not good to see buildings like this empty, because they are not really being looked after.”

Costley main door looking up enhanced

‘However it is very hard sometimes for medical buildings because although they can usually be adapted to wide range of uses, they are often constrained by location. The Costley Ward and Building 5 feature very adaptable open spaces which could make a museum, offices, even a residential development. But of course in a hospital precinct the DHB would want a certain control over what happens there…”

There is hope yet. Robyn assures any interested parties that when a Heritage building maintains its original use, HNZ is much more tolerant of adaptions necessitated by modernisation.

If imagination is wanting on a Costley restoration, interested parties might like to visit Parnell Library; the grand Jubilee Building was the creation of 19th century architect Edward Bartley who designed the Costley Wards after working on Jubilee’s Foundation for the Blind purpose. Bartley also designed the diminutive Waihi Hospital, listed by HNZ in 1986, later restored to glory and used as an aged care facility.